Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Iditarod: Photos from Anchorage, March 2, 2013

I accompanied my wife for a week in Anchorage from February 24 to March 3.  She was consulting with a client, and possibly, as a lure, her client scheduled her visit to overlap with the start of the Iditarod.  No way would I pass up an opportunity like this, so I tagged along and played while Andrea worked.

At a later date, I will post more on Alaska and Anchorage, but since the Iditarod just finished today, I decided I had better get out the following photographs while they have some timely relevance. After all, in Alaskan "chamber-speak," the Iditarod is known as "The Last Great Race on Earth."

It was won this year--today in fact, March 13, 2013--by Mitch Seavey.  His time on the trail was 9 days, 7 hours, 39 minutes and 56 seconds.

Aliy Zirkle, Musher from Two Rivers, with one of her sled dogs (cel phone photo by Andrea Kihlstedt)

In second place, a mere 24 minutes behind, was Aliy Zirkle.  While I was wandering the starting course on Anchorage's 4th Avenue with my camera on Saturday, my wife's clients introduced her to Aliy, who is a good friend of theirs. So here (above) is Andrea's shot of Aliy as she discusses strategy with a member of her team.

By the way, last year Aliy Zirkle also came in second. She was beaten out by Dallas Seavey, Mitch's son, by one hour.  Today, Mitch Seavey became the oldest person to win the Iditarod, while his son, last year, became the youngest to win the "Last Great Race on Earth."

Two second place finishes for Aliy, back-to-back, ain't too bad, especially when one considers that the race is 1,049 miles in length. This means that, over 2,098 miles, Aliy's lag-time was under an hour-and-a-half. That's consistency at a high level.  

If Andrea's clients invite her back for more meetings next year, I'll tag along again and try to make my way to Two Rivers, where Aliy lives, and see if I can't document her entire team and her preparations.

Anyway, here are some of my photographs taken on Saturday, March 2, 2013, in Anchorage, where the "Ceremonial Start" of the Iditarod took place.  The Official Start, called the "Restart," took place 50 miles north in Willow on Sunday, March 3, at 2:00 p.m.

Anchorage, Alaska, 4th Avenue, Friday, March 1, 2013, late afternoon

Anchorage, Alaska, 4th Avenue, Saturday, March 2, early morning

These two photographs show the conversion that must take place in order to have the ceremonial start in Anchorage, where the city streets normally need to be kept snow-free.  Friday evening shows a clear 4th Avenue, which is where the Iditarod starts.  Then, voilà, by early Saturday morning, several miles of snow have been trucked in and dumped on the streets, enabling the sleds to run through the city.  

They mush for about 11 miles to a 730 acre tract at the edge of the city, the Campbell Tract, where the teams pack up dogs and sleds and drive to Willow, where the "restart"--the real race--begins the next day.

Willow, Alaska, Air View of Lake

According the our bush pilot, who flew us into the Alaska Range and around Mount McKinley the day after we arrived in Anchorage, this is the lake where the Iditarod actually begins. So, I guess that we are looking down on Willow in this photograph.  Lakes, rivers and mountain passes are the choice--and the necessary thoroughfares--for this race and for most any other winter travel into the Alaskan wilderness.

I took the following photographs in the hours before the 10:00 ceremonial start.  The teams arrive in trucks and find their assigned spot on 4th Avenue or some of the adjoining side streets.  Mushers emerge, often to gatherings of fans seeking proximity and autographs, sleds get taken down from cab roofs, and the dogs emerge from their rolling kennels.

It's cacophany.  These dogs are excited and rarin' to go.  They are fed breakfast, relieve themselves in the snow, then are put back in their kennels to rest (and calm down, I imagine) before coming out again to be hitched up and go to the starting line: that's when you really see their adrenaline take over.

Sled, Charley Bejna, Musher from Addison, IL

Nice blanket (or rug): possibly Charley's guardian angel?  As of this writing, I have no news on Charley status, except that he still is running and was holding 49th position.

Scott Janssen, Musher from Anchorage, AK

Waiting for Breakfast: Sled Dogs of Scott Janssen

Scott, being a local, was besieged by autograph seekers.  By the time he turned and saw me, I'm sure he was simply looking for an escape path to get back to his dogs.

Nine days ago, on March 4, Scott pulled out of the race, apparently out of concern for his dogs. This is understandable, because, in the 2012 Iditarod, one of his dogs--Marshall--collapsed as the team descended into the Dalzell Gorge, and Scott gave it "mouth-to-snout" resucitation. Marshall is fully recovered and now lives in Scott's house.

Waiting for Breakfast: Sled Dogs of Mushers Paul Gebhardt & Kristy Berington from Kasilof

As of this writing, I have no new status on either Paul or Kristy, except that both are still running.  Paul was holding at 15th position, and Kristy was in 20th position.

Croner getting some love from Carrie: Sled Dogs of Musher Jeff King from Denali

Jeff King has finished and came in third place, one-hour and 42 minutes behind Mitch Seavey, the winner.  Let's hope that Carrie's love hugs kept Croner warm and healthy for all those nine-plus days on the trail.

Resting and Digesting: Sled Dogs of Jeff King

Ernie is ready to go; Ugly prefers his special chair: Sled Dogs of Nicholas Petit from Girdwood 

Nicholas Petit told me that Ugly, who is sitting in the chair behind the trailer, might be hitched up for the ceremonial run, but then he goes back into his warm kennel--no Iditarod for him.

Nicholas finished the race in sixth place, 9 days, 11 hours and 39 minutes on the trail.

Bomber: Sled Dog of Musher Michael Williams, Jr. from Akiak

As of this writing, I have no new status on Michael, Jr.  The last report had him in 24th position.

Icicle & Innoka: Sled Dogs of Bob Chlupach from Willow

Snow: Sled Dog of Bob Chlupach

As of this writing, I have no new status on Bob Chlupach.  The last report had him in 56th position.  Given the fact that 10 sleds have scratched and are no longer running, and the race started with 66 teams, it looks as if Bob is in last place.  

I'll be interested to see if he is able to make up any positions.  I also hope that these sweet dogs of his stay healthy.  I was told, by the way, that Icicle and Innoka (pictured in the upper photograph) are twins.

Tundra: Sled Dog of Charley Bejna from Addison, IL

Murphy & Shred: Sled Dogs of Ray Redington, Jr. from Wasilla

Ray finished in 5th place, 9 days, 11 hours and 4 minutes on the trail.

The following photographs show the dogs in action, at the start of the Saturday, ceremonial run.  Take note that there are several people and usually two sleds.  That's because this is really a fun day, preliminary to the real race that started on Sunday.  The extra riders are sponsors and supporters of the team.  They will enjoy the eleven mile ride to the Bureau of Land Management Campbell Tract, where I am sure there is food, conviviality, and where they have already parked their cars so they can get home once they see their teams off on the road to Willow for the next day's "restart."

Turn onto Cordova Street: Number 2 Sled, Martin Buser from Big Lake

Turn onto Cordova Street: Number 3 Sled, Scott Janssen from Anchorage

The Number 1 sled was a ceremonial sled probably going only to the Campbell Tract.  Therefore, sleds 2 and 3 (above) represent the first two racing mushers. Here, in the first turn, they seem to reveal differing approaches to making a ninety-degree right turn: wide and easy for Martin Buser, narrow and tight for Scott Janssen.  But then, I know absolutely nothing about handling a team of eager dogs and am simply responding to the visual evidence before me. 

As of this writing, I have no new status on Martin Buser, who at last report was in 17th place.

Turn onto Cordova Street: Number 3 Sled, Scott Janssen

As this picture suggests, since Scott is from Anchorage, he may have cut this tight turn in order to give the locals a closer look at a favorite home boy.  

By the way, even if liberal easterners like me might think of Alaska as politically conservative, with all that that entails, take a look at the pro-Union sign being held up by one of the local viewers. It reads, "This Track/ Union Built." My rear end may be freezing as I sit on a snow bank taking these photographs, but that sign sure does warm my heart. Now how about a little more of this progressive thinking in Michigan and Wisconsin!!

Turn onto Cordova Street: Number 4 Sled, Jodi Bailey from Chatanika

As of this writing, I have no new status on Jodi.  The last report had her in 44th position.

Turn onto Cordova Street: Number 5 Sled, Lance Mackey from Fairbanks

As of this writing, I have no new status on Lance.  The last report had him in 19th position.  

Turn onto Cordova Street: Number 6 Sled, Ken Anderson from Fairbanks

Ken finished in 12th place, 9 days, 16 hours and 9 minutes on the trail.

Before I froze my you-know-what off, sitting in the snowbank at the Cordova turn, I began to make my way back to the starting line.  Somewhere there, looking down from the warmth of an enclosed gallery and eating catered food, was my wife and her clients.  But I was not quite ready for those amenities.

The 4th Avenue Chute: Number 9 Sled, Kelly Griffin from Wasilla

This photo shows the rather narrow chute that that accommodates the sleds once beyond the starting line.

Number 9 Sled, Kelly Griffin

As of this writing, I have no new status on Kelly, who at last report was in 26th place.

The 4th Avenue Chute: Number 10 Sled, Peter Kaiser from Bethel

Peter finished in 13th place, 9 days, 17 hours and 36 minutes on the trail.

4th Avenue: Number 12 Sled, Jason Mackey from Wasilla

Jason scratched and is out of the Iditarod; the reason given was that he took ill.

4th Avenue: Number 13 Sled, John Baker from Kotzebue

As of this writing, I have no new status on John Baker, who at last report was in 20th place.

4th Avenue: Number 14 Sled, Paige Drobny from Fairbanks

As of this writing, I have no new status on Paige, who at last report was in 35th place.

4th Avenue Starting Line: Photographers wait for Sled 19, Dallas Seavey from Willow

Dallas Seavey, son of this year's Iditarod winner, came in 4th place  with a time of 9 days, 10 hours and 20 minutes.

The reason those photographers look so comfortable, stretched out on the wall of snow, while I had to leave my snowbank and start rediscovering my circulation, is that all of them brought (insulated?) tarps to lie on. 

4th Avenue Starting Line: Sled 20, Kristy Berington from Kasilof

I already reported about Kristy's status.  I love the very start of the race, as the dogs strain to overcome the inertia of a sled at rest.  Kristy's lead dog almost appears to be looking back and barking commands.  Maybe he (or she) is doing just that.

4th Avenue: Number 28 Sled, DeeDee Jonrowe from Willow

DeeDee finished in 10th place, 9 days, 13 hours and 24 minutes on the trail.

However, in case anyone thought the Iditarod might be some sort of extended walk in the park, I encourage you to watch this video interview with DeeDee about a harrowing early experience that she had. The video is titled, "DeeDee and Her Wild Ride." It's amazing that she was able to finish the race, eight days later.

4th Avenue:  Number 54 Sled, Jessica Hendricks from Two Rivers

As of this writing, I have no new status on Jessica, who at last report was in 25th place.

4th Avenue: Number 57 Sled, Wade Marrs from Wasilla

As of this writing, I have no new status on Wade, who at last report was in 32nd place.

4th Avenue: Number 59 Sled, Jim Lanier from Chugiak

As of this writing, I have no new status on Jim Lanier, who at last report was in 34th place.

I hope that you have enjoyed some parts of this blog post, but I can't really speak about the Iditarod from personal experience. I have never even taken a ride in a dog sled, and all I saw was a two-hundred yard run on urban snow!

Even so, watching these dogs run this short stretch of 4th Avenue was inspiring, and I can only imagine what it would be like to ride behind them on a wilderness trail.  I encourage you to watch the following video that offers much more than my simple, still photographs; its passages of mushing at night in the wilderness are particularly captivating.  It's title is "Run Dogs Run."

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A Look At Some East Side Public Sculpture

This year, my wife and I decided that we would take Fridays off. More accurately, she (Andrea) felt that she needed a day away from her computer and work. For me, being happily retired, every day could be Friday. But now, on Fridays, we head out and enjoy a small sampling of the infinite activities that New York City graciously provides for us.

Movies, of course, could fill an entire day: one can see two movies/day and never exhaust the offerings in this city.  However, on two recent Fridays, we attended a free, noon event at Rockefeller University.  One was a string quartet recital.  The other was a film by Josh Aronson titled Orchestra of Exiles, a riveting documentary about how Bronislaw Huberman, a Polish violin prodigy, created the Israeli Philharmonic by rescuing major Jewish musicians who were being “blackballed” by the Nazi German state and bringing them to Palestine.  Aronson’s film, by the way, will be broadcast on Sunday, April 14 by PBS.

Both of these events fall under the aegis of Rockefeller’s Tri-I Noon Recital series; its director is our long-time friend, John Gerlach. 

Josh Aronson (seated) and John L. Gerlach, Rockefeller University, February 15, 2013

Here is a photo I took in Rockefeller’s faculty dining room at the lunch following the viewing of Aronson’s film. Aronson (seated) is talking to John Gerlach.

You must be wondering what this has to do with East Side Public Sculpture, so allow me clarify.  On one Friday we walked to Rockefeller University from the Bronx, and on another we walked downtown on York and First Avenues after the recital.  On these walks, we came across the following sculptures, and since I am rarely without a camera, I thought that you would be interested in some of the visual delights that abound in our fair city.

Melvin Edwards, Tomorrow's Wind, 1989-91, Thomas Jefferson Park, 1st Ave. ca. East 112th St.

Walking through Thomas Jefferson Park in East Harlem, I was surprised to see this nice, monumental abstraction by Mel Edwards.  I knew that Mel also made large sculptures, but I was much more familiar with his smaller pieces, most of which are wall-mounted, interior pieces, meant to be seen at eye-level.  The bulk of these are social statements, even if abstract, and Edwards calls them "Lynch Fragments."  The earliest of these small pieces find their basis in racial violence, later ones (from the 1970s) in the Vietnam War, and, later still, in African culture more generally.

Tomorrow's Wind is simpler in composition than his smaller works and consists of three main elements: a canted (solar) disk, a vertical, rising arc, and an angled, incomplete triangle with three step-like cut-outs.  I would read this, latter, element as our earth-bound reality, which supports the aspirations expressed by the arc and our spiritual nature as embodied in the circular disk; that disk, by the way, is meant to reflect the sun off its polished stainless-steel face.

Nice piece, Mel.  Too bad it was a grey, late January day when I took this photo.

Zurab Tsereteli, Good Defeats Evil, 1990, United Nations Headquarters, 1st Ave. at East 47th St.

Zurab Tsereteli, Good Defeats Evil, 1990, United Nations Headquarters, Detail with artist's signature

Zurab Tsereteli, Good Defeats Evil, 1990, United Nations Headquarters, Detail with Pershing & SS-20 Missile Sections

Off of 1st Avenue, in a section of the United Nations grounds not open to the public, I discovered this truly monumental sculpture, nearly forty feet high by the Russian sculptor, Zurab Tsereteli. Titled Good Defeats Evil, it consists of a very traditional Saint George on horse wielding his (Christian) lance against a dragon who, in death, reveals his Darth Vader-like, high-tech innards. These insides, spewing forth from the dragon's more-recognizable, scaly body, litter the ground below the Saint's horse.

The guts of this dragon, best seen directly above in the third of my photographs, are anything but traditional.  They consist of actual sections of scrapped US Pershing and USSR SS-20 nuclear missiles.   The dragon, and the evil it embodies, is nuclear war. American Pershing II and Russian SS-20 missiles were the main delivery systems for nuclear warheads, but in December of 1987 they were banned by the INF (Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces) Treaty: the first international agreement to eliminate an entire class of nuclear weapons.  Tsereteli’s sculpture celebrates the INF Treaty, and it was donated to the United Nations by the Soviet Union in 1990.

Good Defeats Evil is an important sculpture in commemoration of an internationally important treaty, yet it is inaccessible to general visitors to the United Nations Headquarters. Also, its appropriation of the Christian metaphor of St. George and the Dragon might be questioned in the context of a gift to the United Nations, whose member countries embrace all religions.  Moreover, many Asian countries perceive the dragon as a benevolent creature, not an embodiment of evil.  Then, again, few countries see St. George as so central a figure as Russia, the donor country, where the saint has appeared on its coat of arms since the 16th century, and where he also appears on Moscow’s coat of arms.

Given the fact that the dragon is two-headed--the one at the rear already lying lifeless as George plunges his spear into the neck of the other whose jaws threaten his rearing horse--we can assume that it represents the two signatory countries, the USA and the USSR.  If so, then who (or what Good) does George represent?  I’ll leave you with this question as we proceed south to our next discovery.

Carl Frederick Reuterswärd, Non Violence, ca. 1985, United Nations Headquarters, 1st Ave. at East 45th St.

Not far south from Good Defeats Evil, are two other sculptures on the UN grounds and these are accessible to the public as they flank the United Nations Visitors Centre between 46th and 45th Streets.

The one, by Swedish artist Carl Frederick Reuterswärd is titled Non Violence, although most people know it as The Knotted Gun. A 45-caliber revolver points west, as if to shoot across mid-town Manhattan, only its barrel is rendered useless by a knot.  The symbolism is obvious.

Reuterswärd made several versions of this sculpture as a response to the murder of his friend, John Lennon, on December 8, 1980. This work was one of the artist’s first three versions and was purchased by the Luxembourg government and given to the UN in 1988.   At the dedication, Secretary General Kofi Annan made the following statement:  "The sculpture, Non Violence, has not only endowed the United Nations with a cherished work of art;  it has enriched the consciousness of humanity with a powerful symbol that encapsulates, in a few simple curves, the greatest prayer of man;  that which asks not for victory, but for peace."

Although New York, the city in which this sculpture sits, ranks among the safest big cities in America, many may see this revolver as an archaic reminder of simpler times when compared to the lethal assault weapons equipped with high-capacity magazines that proliferate and plague our country today.

Other countries, particularly in Europe, enjoy the relative peace that Kofi Annan prayed for.  But America, unfortunately, is still a long way from this goal, as the following graph indicates.

The other public sculpture outside of the UN Visitors Centre is Italian Arnaldo Pomodoro’s Sphere Within A Sphere.  In this case, as well, the artist made several versions.   All of them reveal a highly-polished bronze sphere penetrated by fissures that pull away to reveal a quasi-mechanical interior of toothed elements and another, smaller sphere.  While its polished exterior surface reflects its surroundings, it opens up to expose a much more complicated, darker and mysterious interior.

Arnaldo Pomodoro, Sphere Within A Sphere, United Nations Headquarters, 1st Ave. at East 45th St.

As with so much good art, particularly abstract art, Pomodoro’s Sphere Within A Sphere generates questions.   Is it a planet, a universe, or a cosmos, or is it maybe subatomic in scale?   Do we, on an infinitesimally-small scale, live somewhere within this sphere?   Is the outer sphere giving birth to the inner one, as if the work represents some cosmic gestation?   Does it share influences with the Death Star from George Lucas’ Star Wars of 1977?  Does it have some relationship to the work of another Italian, the architect Paolo Soleri, and his evocative megastructural habitats which he terms Arcologies?  Or is Pomodoro possibly making some reference to one of Euclid’s five regular solids which would become generally known as the Platonic Solids?   Here is a wonderfully intriguing piece that untethers our imaginations.

Totora Reed Boat, Peru/Bolivia, Lake Ttiticaca, United Nations Visitors' Center

With this photograph, I digress, because it is not public sculpture. It is part of an exhibition inside the United Nations Visitors Centre that focuses on South America and the cultivation and uses of quinoa, especially in Peru and Bolivia.  I simply had to share with you this traditional boat made from Totora reeds that grow in abundance around Lake Titicaca, which is where quinoa domestication also seems to have originated.

Reuben Nakian, Descent from the Cross, 1972, St. Vartan Cathedral, 2nd Ave. at East 34th St.

After leaving the United Nations Visitors Centre, we continued south along 1st Avenue and then turned west on 35th Street. Here we encountered the St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral, which is the seat of the Armenian Archbishop and the head of the Eastern Diocese.  The raised plaza (or atrium?) in front features an abstract sculpture by the American Sculptor, Reuben Nakian. Of Armenian extraction, Nakian studied art at the Robert Henri School and the Art Students League, and was friends with Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline.  Although his earlier work retained its figurative basis, even as it revealed tendencies toward abstraction, this later work is completely abstract.  The Descent from the Cross consists of rough, irregular slabs in cast bronze, stacked up as if to reference Golgotha and, when seen from the front, to create a cave-like opening that might suggest the place of Christ’s entombment.  The view I chose here may not be the best for revealing these aspects, but it offers you the best view to see the sculpture in the context of the cathedral.

Nakian has arranged these rough slabs in aggressive, angular slashes, not unlike the abstract expressionist paintings of his friend, Franz Kline.  Also, his adherence to timeless subjects like this parallels the work of abstract expressionists like Robert Motherwell.  For anyone interested in a fuller visual analysis of Nakian’s Descent from the Cross, I suggest this piece by Robert Metzger.

Before moving on to my final example of public sculpture, I would like to suggest that there may be a special connection between the subject of the Descent from the Cross--the penultimate 13th Station of the Cross--and its presence in the context of an Armenian Cathedral in America.  Joseph of Arimathea took Christ down from the Cross and then donated his own tomb to Christ’s body.  Over a millennium later, in 1216, the Armenian Cathedral of St. Hovhannes Mkrtich (John the Baptist) was built in the the Holy See of Gandzasar, and it reputedly contained the relics of Joseph of Arimathea.   

Gandzasar was of great importance in Armenian religious and political life, and it wouldn’t surprise me if further research might lead one to interpret and connect this work of Nakian's to the Turkish oppression of Armenians during the massacres of 1895-96 and the 1915 Armenian Genocide.

Leo Villareal, Buckyball, 2012, Madison Square Park, Broadway and 23rd St.

We end up, after dinner, in Madison Square where the latest sculptural installation of the Park Conservancy’s ongoing Madison Square Art program is Leo Villareal’s Buckyball.   A graduate of Yale University and of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Villareal works with light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and encoded computer programming to create illuminated displays, such as seen here at the bottom of the Park (with the top of the Empire State Building rising above it in the distance). 

Villareal makes use of Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic spheres, one nested in the other--think of this as an open, airy version of the Pomodoro piece that we saw earlier.  The name, “Buckyball,” was first given to these forms in 1985 by their discoverers at Rice University.  The spherical buckyball, and certain other forms such as cylindrical nanotubes (or “buckytubes”) represent molecular forms composed entirely of carbon.  Together, the two forms are known generically as “fullerenes.”

Since their discovery, fullerenes have been found in nature and, according to astronomer Letitzia Stanghellini, "It’s possible that buckyballs from outer space provided seeds for life on Earth.” 

And so, as we digest our dinner, we join other couples and recline on benches--otherwise referred to as “zero-gravity couches”--and contemplate Buckyball and its cosmic implications, or merely enjoy its continually changing light show created by “16 million distinct colors.”  The Pomodoro “Death Star” has become a delightful, gigantic beachball, and New York City has given us another exhilarating day of discovery.